I rode my first motorcycle when I was in my early twenties. It belonged to a friend of mine, and I asked him if I could take it for a spin around the block. It was only a ten-minute ride, and I don’t think I ever got out of first gear, but the seed, so to speak, was planted. Sometime after that wonderful ten minutes, I found the picture above in a magazine, farmed it, and it sat on my desk for many, many years.
However, this is not when the love affair started. And to be honest, the love affair at first was more of a fascination with the open road and discovery than with motorcycles, as after my first “spin” it would be 13 years before I purchased my first bike at 34 years old, and 28 years before getting my first Harley. In retrospect, it is probably very fortunate that I did not start riding motorcycles when I was a teenager as I would most likely not be around to write this!
No, this love affair begins in a quiet suburb of Montreal, Quebec around the early 1960s. I was either 13 or 14 when I first heard a Nat King Cole song on the radio from the album The Nat King Cole Story – 1961: “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.” It was around the same time (I really don’t remember which came first) that I started watching the TV show Route 66, starring Martin Milner as Tod Stiles, and George Maharis as Buz Murdoch. After being exposed to both these pop culture offerings, I definitely had Route 66 on my mind and vowed to myself to one day travel that highway. Just a few years later, around 1967 and not long after getting my first driver’s license, I watched the movie “The Wild One” (1953) starring Marlon Brando (as Johnny Strabler), which is now considered as the original outlaw biker film. My favorite lines from that movie come when someone asks Johnny: “What are you rebelling against?” The reply” “Whaddaya got?” It was after watching this film that I started to fantasize about the culture of motorcycles and someday riding along Route 66 on my hog with the wind blowing in my hair. That fantasy quickly faded from my mind after I mentioned it to my parents. Their collective looks informed me that I might need to shelve this for a later date. It took 51 years to make it happen, although by then the hair was long gone! But I am getting ahead of myself.
When I purchased my first motorcycle in 1984, it was not done with the open road in my mind, rather a need for a cheaper mode of transportation. I had relocated to Vancouver, B.C., and at the age of 34 decided to leave my job and go back to school. I packed up what I was doing, enrolled at one of the local universities, sold my Volvo station wagon, and bought a used 1982 400cc Yamaha! I remember phoning my mom to tell her all of this and there was a silence on the other end until she said: “Who is this?” The day I purchased the bike was interesting to say the least. I was at a local shop looking at bikes that wouldn’t be too draining on a student budget and settled on the aforementioned Yamaha. After getting the necessary accessories, helmet, gloves, bike shades (hey, ya gotta look cool!), and going over the bike with the salesman, he asked for my driver’s license to finish the paperwork and that’s when the fun began.
Apparently, and much to my surprise, you needed to have a specifically designated motorcycle driver’s license, or a learner’s permit to ride a motorcycle. I had just spent hundreds of dollars on a bike and accessories, and I couldn’t leave the shop with it! I was not happy. He said I needed to go to the nearest Canadian equivalent of the DMV to get a learner’s permit, which allows you to ride a motorcycle with three stipulations: No riding at night, no riding with a passenger, no riding over 55 MPH (meaning no highways). I remember breaking all three of these the second week I owned the bike! Fortunately, there was one nearby, so off I went. After standing in line for way too long, I approached the window and asked what I needed to do to secure this permit. I was told that I had to read the motorcycle safety handbook and then come back and take a written test of ten questions and needed to get an 80% or better. I took the booklet and went to the restaurant next door, had some lunch, read the booklet, and went back to stand in line. When it was my turn, it was the same woman who had served me earlier. She looked at me rather puzzled, but before she could say anything I said: “Look, I just bought a bike and I need to ride it home!” She shrugged, gave me the test and I scored 9/10. I was issued a learner’s permit and promptly went back to the shop.
The salesman quickly completed the remaining paperwork and asked if I had any questions before taking off. I remembered nothing from my 10-minute ride years ago, so I asked him: “Where’s 1st?” Since I had just purchased a bike, he assumed I was asking directions for 1st Ave! “Nah, I know where 1st Ave. is, where is 1st gear?” “Have you ever ridden a bike before,” he asked with a look of consternation on his face? “Yeah, but it was a long time ago I’m a little rusty.” Shaking his head, he gave me a quick tutorial on gears and braking and then I was on my merry way. I’m pretty sure the salesman was Catholic, because when I looked in the mirror as I left, he was standing in the parking lot crossing himself!
I managed to get home without incident and quickly decided that I needed some practice riding time, preferably not with any other vehicles around. There was a new shopping center being built close to home and they had just finished paving the parking lot, a huge blacktop expanse with no cars, just lampposts. Perfect! Off I went with a full tank of gas. I rode around that parking lot for hours practicing braking, turning, sudden stops, all while trying not to hit the posts. Do you have any idea how long it takes to empty a four-gallon gas tank on a 400cc motorcycle? Let me help you. The parking lot was approximately ½ mile long by ¼ mile wide, and this motorcycle averaged about 50 miles per gallon. So, that’s two hundred miles per tankful to use up in a space with the dimensions above. Yup, I was there for a really long time!
There is a very common disease that just about everyone who has ever ridden a motorcycle contracts at some point during their riding years. It has a similar suffix to many other afflictions like tendonitis, bronchitis, tonsillitis, appendicitis, and meningitis. It’s called: CCitis! CC’s (cubic centimeters) are how most motorcycle engines are classified and CCitis is when you look at the 400cc bike you’ve been riding for less than a year and say: “Hmm, I think I want something bigger.” And so, it began. My next three bikes were 750ccs, one Honda and two Yamahas. Then, after relocating to Los Angeles (a motorcycle paradise weather wise) came a 1300cc Honda, a 1200cc Harley Fat Boy, a 1600cc Harley Road King, and my current ride, a 1700cc Harley Soft-Tail Slim.
I am very fortunate to have covered a great deal of ground on my motorcycles over the years. Numerous rides all over the Province of B.C and down into Washington, Oregon, and California when I lived in Vancouver, B.C. And numerous rides all over California and Southern Oregon since my relocation to Los Angeles. I’ve done everything from motorcycle camping to staying in fancy hotels and everything in between. But my most memorable trip was the one that fulfilled that long dreamed about fantasy mentioned above, when I poured over maps and plotted my route for a trip along Route 66 from Los Angeles to Santa Fe, N.M., a distance of just under 1,000 miles. I completed this trip in June of 2017 when I was, appropriately enough, 66 years-old! Since this historic road is no longer continuous, it took some planning and many detailed maps to accomplish this trip, but it was worth every minute I spent in preparation. I visited so many interesting towns and saw so many wonderful features of the varied landscape along my way through California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Each town along Route 66 had a more interesting history than the next one and I soaked it all up. One could say, as it was stated in that song so many years ago, “I certainly got my Kicks on Route 66!” Below are some photos from that memorable trip.
I found the Wigwam Hotel on my way to Santa Fe, and promptly made a reservation to stay there on my return trip. I found out that there used to be many more of these hotels across Arizona and California and that there were only two remaining. I also found out that the original owners were not very up on Native American culture, as these structures are actually teepees not wigwams!
After my stay in Holbrok AZ, I decided on a short riding day to give my body a rest and rode the 33 miles to Winslow AZ which, as you can see by the photo below on the left, is very proud of its affiliation with this iconic road. And of course, if you are of a certain age, you will no doubt remember the now classic Eagle’s song “Take it Easy,” the second verse starting with: “Well, I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,” represented in the photo to the right. Glenn Frye passed away in January of 2016 and the statue was unveiled in September of the same year. On opposite corners of this intersection are two souvenir shops. I went into one out of curiosity and noticed that they had Eagle’s music playing when I entered. I initially thought that this was quite a coincidence until I realized that every song that came on was an Eagles song! I asked the young woman behind the counter if she ever tired of listening to the same songs over, and over, and over again? Her terse reply: “I block it out!”
I am still out there riding, although I will be doing only shorter trips in the future dictated by the smaller, non-touring motorcycle and aging stamina. However, a short ride is better than no ride at all. The last words belong to the back of a t-shirt I wear proudly:
Los Angeles 2022